By Alex Roberts
At a house known for being a bit of revolving artistic hub in Kileleshwa, anticipation has been building today. Two days ago at Intersect, Akoth Jumadi brought down the house as the night sky rolled in, playing a stripped down outdoor set to a clearly loyal and rapidly growing cohort of fans. The main push of the show is the same reason that the anticipation is so high- Jumadi’s debut collection of songs, an eight track output entitled ‘Ere Yo’ is due to drop today, October 20, 2020.
The EP holds in the same themes as the singer herself, an artist eschewing expectations and trying to carve her own niche, even the title itself, ‘Ere Yo’ reflects a yearning for growth, translating to ‘where is the way’. For an up-and-coming artist within the pressure filled music market of Kenya, Jumadi seems to be planting a flag on her own trip- to say this is my sound and damn the torpedoes.
The result is surprisingly complex for such a short collection of songs. As Jumadi says, the work is based around three major themes, awareness, awakening and freedom and it is through these narrative guides that the EP breathes and evolves track over track, from ethereal to melancholy to joy and from self doubt into a full stride of confidence. All of these feelings come through with a sound that seems to bend genres, wedging itself firmly into its own niche and daring mildly hungover music writers to label it.
“I think this collection was calculated, I wanted to tell the story of observing your environment and knowing yourself and looking for the gaps that need to be filled, and what is my role in it, and where do I go with it. The cover of the album is kind of a ‘bag lady thing’. It’s looking to see and let go of all these things I can’t control,” explains Jumadi.
The first track, Intro, opens very similarly to how Jumadi opened her Intersect set, inviting you inward, as if the record is a conversation yet to be had with you, a dinner party you’re newly arriving to.
After the dreamy trip-laced vibes of the opener, the record rapidly turns inward, with Lini Utapenya, translating roughly to ‘when will you make it’. As Jumadi says, “I feel like its a question that my siblings and my parents ask me, they don’t view music as always realistic, so this is where my mind is, trying to bring out who I am, and reflect that, to show that burden of loneliness that gets carried by me, and by many artists, but to show that I’m making it.”
The track itself is slow tripped weave of guitar lines and softly backed percussions, with a haunting refrain from Jumadi’s voice coming in over the top, and a listener can hear the pain in her voice looking for her own path, unsure yet if it is to be found or if there’s an outside understanding of her attempt.
The next track, Saa Kalo, although changing the tempos, deepening the guitar grooves and letting the notes hit an almost Benga-esque tilt, further has the feeling of confusion about self, her own questions about where her art will actually take her and whether the very idea of a career in music will ever carry any water going forward, or if she’s fallen off the path she ‘should’ go down.
The title track, ‘Ere Yo’, comes next, and starts to lean in further into the theme of awakening, and the with it, the guitars meld in, the back beat weaves in, and the overriding feeling of hopefulness begins to increase, with the track coming across as a long form meditation on accepting one’s one path, “this marks the beginning of new things, very hopeful, and the track goes on, letting that vibration hang there, I’ve played this song live for a long time, and it just kept extending, especially when I was jamming it with other artists,” says Jumadi.
The set of songs begins to shift further towards a celebration with the fifth track, ‘Jangolo’, which is perhaps the high water mark of the entire record. It’s an uplifting celebration with a neo-soul Afro-folked twist, and was written to be a celebration of musicianship and musicians. It was this track that brought the crowd to its feet to dance on Sunday, and has all the hallmarks of getting delightfully wedged in your head after a single listen.
The sixth track, Aluoro, comes in even more confident and faster, fusing and welding genres, a song that came about through tweaking and adjustments, as Jumadi says, “that was one of the good things about lockdown, I was able to rethink and re-work, and the song came through as love that shows up unexpectedly.” The result is a track that could be at home in a Kisumu dive bar or the Westlands hipster niche alike, and would prove equally danceable in either sphere.
Nyar Nam, the seventh track, finally Jumadi comes full circle into self-realization, “it means I’m here, I know myself, I’m a girl from the Lake, and I’m here to do things with my music.”
The collection closes with with a slight political bend, Iwala Wala, a high tempo and upbeat track of awareness and freedom, perhaps marking a transition for Jumadi’s works to come into focusing on even broader issues to come. The track is marked with delicious guitar licks and a further expansion of the backing groove section.
Make no mistake, ‘Ere Yo’ is a damn strong first effort, a startling body of work from an emerging artist, especially as she leans back into the theme of finding her own voice. It finds condfideent footing in the very lack of confidence in herself and shows the way forward towards finding a place for the singer. Even through her self-doubts and trials within the music industry, the EP will serve as a graduation gift to herself, an artistic degree from a self-taught university, and one that deserves to be framed and placed with pride on the mantle. If Akoth Jumadi has officially arrived in her own eyes, then she has also arrived as a force in the underground music scene of East Africa.
You can find all thing ‘Ere Yo’ HERE.